Song, Dance and Laughter
How UNICEF’s Child Friendly Spaces in Mindanao are becoming a place where the community come together
Maguindanao province in Mindanao, April 2010 – Song and laughter can be heard among the shelters at Pendililang Evacuation site in the municipality of Datu Saudi. The children of the community have gathered in UNICEF’s Child Friendly Space (CFS) and they are singing a familiar children’s song while clapping their hands. The space is nicely decorated with colourful drawings of flowers, families and happy faces.
‘I like to sing.’ Noratha, 5, says while she is clapping her hands and doing some dance moves. ‘And today we learnt a new song.’ She says and smiles.
Noratha is one of many children living in the evacuation site for almost two years. Her family evacuated here in August 2008 when the peace talks collapsed between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), triggering renewed fighting and displacing over 950,000 people. Still an estimated 100,000 people are displaced, living in over 50 evacuation or resettlement sites across Maguindanao province.
‘Before we got the Child Friendly Space the children used to roam around all day and their mood was very different.’ Meriam Samat, one of the CFS Volunteers says. ‘Now the children wake me up early in the morning because they want to go to the CFS and learn new songs and hear stories.’
The Child Friendly Spaces are part of UNICEF’s efforts to assist the displaced communities. In partnership with Community and Family Service International (CFSI) and MTB Consortium 73 Child Friendly Spaces has been established in Maguindanao province, reaching around 60,000 children every week.
Meriam is one of 400 volunteers who have been trained by UNICEF and CFSI on psycho social activities and on how to run the CFS. Volunteers like her teach the children new songs, tell them stories and make sure that they feel safe when they are at the CFS. ‘I receive one kilo of rice per month for being a volunteer.’ Meriam says. ‘This helps me take care of my two children, as I am a single mother.’ She looks over at the children who are sitting on the floor around her. ‘I wanted to be a CFS Volunteer to make the children feel safe and to enjoy themselves.’ she says, ‘and I see that they are really happy to be here.’
Mobilizing the community
‘The CFS has become very much like a community hub.’ Jane Mac Phail, UNICEF’s Child Protection Specialist says. ‘It has become a place for meetings and where educational programs are run in the evenings, and people are even getting married here.’
It is the Community Based Child Protection Network that UNICEF is part of that is behind the mobilization of the community. With their community-based organisers the network is able to run livelihood programs. One of the latest projects they hope to implement is a vegetable garden. This will be part of the feeding program that was started earlier this year by UNICEF and its partners, WFP, CSFI and MTB Consortium, and that provides the children with a nutritional meal every day, cooked by the women of the community.
Learning to be a parent again
‘When you have to worry about your security, the roof over your head and food on the table, you might forget the small things such as how to be sensitive and how to love your children.’ Jane explains. ‘The parents instinctively love their children, but to show that does not always become a priority when you have been living in these conditions for so long.’
The parents are therefore invited to join their children at the CFS and to learn from the volunteers how to behave with their children.
‘I have had several conversations with mothers who have told me that they have forgotten how to be with their children.’ Jane says. ‘So coming to the CFS is a good way to connect them back into being attached to their child in a really healthy way.’
At another CFS in Talayan, they have finished eating and it is time to play again. The volunteers gathered the children in a circle and dancing away in the middle are three best friends Arbaya, 6, Rohaina, 4 and Norhana, 5.
‘My favourite activity is dancing.’ Rohaina says. ‘I used to dance at home, but now I can dance with my friends here.’ She smiles.
Written by Silje Vik Pedersen, Emergency Communication Officer